This past weekend, the Pakistan women’s cricket team brought home the first gold medal from the Asian Games in eight years, a development that supporters say “points to the need for more education and opportunities in sports for women in Muslim countries.” Pakistan’s all-rounder Nida Rashid told reporters, “Our media doesn’t give women’s sports that much coverage, as much as they give to men’s sports…There are so many sports in which women participate in Pakistan, like squash, table tennis and volleyball, but they go unnoticed.”
Fair point. How many people could name players on the women’s cricket team before this past week’s win? Anyone? Bueller?
Shirin Javed, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Women’s Wing Chairperson told the Express Tribune,
There is no dearth of interested individuals in the country. We have girls coming from Quetta, from Gilgit, from remote villages that we didn’t even know existed and with names we can’t even pronounce. They are barred from leaving their houses apart from going for training and matches.
But, noted Javed, this is changing. She emphasized, “Times have changed. No longer are the parents worried. We have girls playing in track suits. We have parents dropping their daughter for training on a bicycle. A kitchen is not the only place girls belong to now.”
Back in February, I wrote about the tremendous achievements of Maria Toor, Pakistan’s number one ranked female squash player, (72nd in the world). Not bad for someone who, as a young girl in South Waziristan, would chop her hair in order to disguise herself and play sports with the boys. While Toor’s determination to play sports in the face of opposition is truly inspirational, we should also applaud her father, who recognized his daughter’s talent and moved the family to Peshawar so she could train more freely.
Much like Toor’s father, Shams-ul-Qayum Wazir, cricket player Ismavia Iqbal‘s father also made similar remarks to Express 24/7, appealing to other parents to encourage their daughters to play sports, saying his daughter “improved the Pakistan name” in her achievement with the Pakistan women’s cricket team.
In Pakistan, we have a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights, but the recent press coverage of the women’s cricket team is an opportunity to discuss the benefits of allowing young girls to play sports. From a development perspective, there are numerous reasons why supporting sports for both girls and boys is important – not only for their health and self-esteem value, but also for the team building and leadership skills they provide. This story also further emphasizes how we can’t just empower young girls and women in a vacuum, but also target the men within this patriarchal society. Men like Toor and Iqbal’s fathers should be championed as examples, particularly since women sports players in Pakistan are still met with resistance by critics who regularly label them “budget-wasters, hopeless performers, sinners even,” using “the marriage factor as their primary aid,” noted the Express.
The Times of India quoted Pakistan cricket captain Sana Mir who said,
I think if women in Pakistan are given opportunities to play sports with proper coaches and facilities, there’s no reason why they should not perform – not only at Asian Games – but also in major international tournaments. I believe if you do something with honesty you can gain a lot in the field of sports.